External References, Data Shortcuts, Vault, Buzzsaw… AEC Choices for Data Management

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Civil 3D recognizes several options for data management.  The mystery to many users is what makes these data management techniques different from one another.  Your company’s goals and directions will determine which would be a best fit for each situation.

External references have been around since Release 12—or 1998. By definition, an external reference (aka ‘xref’) is a file that resides outside of a destination or host drawing.  The host drawing contains information leading to the referenced file, but this file cannot be edited within the host drawing.  Using external references, the host drawing increases in size only minimally, and the user has options available such as on/off, frozen/thawed, linetype/color and such changes that only affect the view of the reference file within the host.  For much of the AutoCAD community, this has been a very effective management technique, allowing multiple users to access a picture of a common file in their current drawing while maintaining the integrity of the original file.  Up until recently, XREFS were ideal for project management.  However, with the increased intelligence of our drawings and softwares, we need a little more power.

When Civil 3D came along, users needed to have access to more than just a picture.  Enter Data Shortcuts.  Data shortcuts allow multiple users to not only access the picture of the referenced drawing (much like an xref), but also allows those users to access Civil 3D data from the referenced drawing as well.  With the introduction of associating data shortcuts to specific projects in 2010, there is less room for error in accessing the wrong data shortcut—the path stays in tact.  This management technique is very efficient in the civil design world, enabling users to work independently and in sync with one another on a common design.

Vault Collaboration works much like a library system, allowing check out and check in of project documents.  Users can be allowed levels of access, or permissions, depending on their role in project development.  Vault provides a central project database which provides constant versioning—check in creates new versions while keeping archives of past information; this occurs during the redline process.  Revisioning is also a function of Vault—revisions do not require check out to change the status of project documents, and are more for project milestones once something is ready /approved for construction.  Also, Vault is able to store documents from other disciplines, including emails and specifications, for your final product.  Although Vault has been around a while and is mostly used for mechanical and fabrication projects, Civil 3D is beginning to migrate to this type of document management using Vault Collaboration.

In addition to Vault Collaboration, there is also Vault Professional (formerly Manufacturing).  Vault Professional enriches replication features, which allows collective global data in a central location.  This data is synchronized among all workgroups, globally, and users away from the central depository are able to check information in and out at will without being concerned about duplication or contradiction of data.

Finally, there is a buzz in the air regarding BuzzsawBuzzsaw enables data management based on cloud services as well as enabling users to view Revit and Navisworks models.  Buzzsaw saves these files in a central location, allowing users to access from nearly anywhere using a multitude of mobile devices. If your company is BIM-driven, Buzzsaw may be the data management system best suited for this type of work.

Hope this sheds some light on some of the management options for Civil 3D, but keep your questions close at hand and let us know if we can help!

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